District elections bring eight alleged cases of corruption

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 September, 2003, 12:00am

ICAC says the complaints involve vote planting and bribes to influence electors

The Independent Commission Against Corruption has received eight complaints of corrupt practices involving the upcoming District Council elections, even though voting will not take place until November.

But the anti-corruption watchdog said the early complaints did not necessarily suggest there would be a serious problem for the elections on November 23, when 2.97 million voters will choose 400 district councillors.

The ICAC's programme co-ordinator (elections), Rosaline Cheung Oi-lung, said it was not uncommon for the commission to receive complaints months before an election.

Among the eight pursuable complaints received so far, three involved 'vote planting'.

'It's alleged that they may have provided false information when they registered as voters and it is suspected that they intended to cast a vote later [on that basis],' Ms Cheung said.

The remaining complaints involved the offering of bribes and meals with the aim of affecting voting decisions.

Ms Cheung said the commission had launched a $1 million educational campaign to promote a clean election through television, radio, internet, the mail service and seminars.

Cartoons were being used to help get the anti-graft message across.

She said it was important to keep the election clean as the councillors elected would be dealing with issues relating closely to public livelihood.

It will be the first election since amendments were introduced to the relevant ordinance, including the re-categorisation of some illegal practices as more serious offences.

Under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance that came into effect in 2000, vote planting and the defacing or destroying of nomination papers was reclassified as corrupt conduct instead of illegal conduct.

A corrupt conduct charge carries a maximum fine of $500,000 and seven-year's jail while an illegal conduct charge carries a maximum $200,000 fine and three-year's imprisonment.

Among the 538 pursuable complaints the ICAC received for the 1999 District Council elections, 32 involved vote planting.

Ms Cheung said a further 199 of the complaints involved the release of false statements about the candidates, such as exaggerating their educational qualifications or achievements.

Such allegations made up most of the complaints in the 1999 election.

The ICAC's investigation into the 538 complaints resulted in the prosecution of 16 people, including six who were convicted. A further 75 people were given a verbal warning.

Ms Cheung said although the number of people prosecuted was small compared with the number of complaints received, it was the commission's duty to investigate every complaint.

She said anyone making a false report to the ICAC could face a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $20,000 fine.

The amended election ordinance was applied for the first time in the village head elections in July and August.

The ICAC has received 114 complaints about the village polls, including 109 pursuable ones.

Two people have so far been prosecuted. The commission has also issued seven verbal warnings and three cautions.